Something that I’ve been wrestling with for a while is what to do for a tail vise for my workbench.
I really like the idea of a wagon vise, conceptually that is perfect. The board lays completely on top of the bench, and the dog sticks up out of a slot for clamping. This particular one was shop-built by Chris Schwarz for one of his workbenches using an off the shelf vise screw and simple wooden guides. It demonstrates the simplicity nicely, and you can see how the board would be perfectly supported with the vise only clamping and not otherwise interfering.
There are a couple of things that concern me about the commercial wagon vises I’ve seen. Don’t get me wrong, they all appear to be wonderful vises — I’m concerned about the complexity of installing one. In particular about the amount of surgery I’d have to do on my mostly-finished bench top. I want to finish this project (appearances to the contrary notwithstanding) so I can get on with making other stuff I have in mind.
Installing a commercial wagon vise typically involves not only milling a slot in the top (that’s a given), but adding an end cap and carving away a lot of the underside of the bench for clearance. I can’t put my finger on exactly why those things bother me so much, maybe by the end of this post I’ll have a better handle on it.
So, with an eye toward simpler approaches that get me to a functioning bench, let’s look at the alternatives.
Common Face Vise Mounted on the Bench End
I’ve seen lots of people do this, including my spiritual woodworking leader (you caught me, I’m a Schwarz fanboi) on his Cherry-slabbed Roubo bench. On that particular bench Chris used an antique vise and added an asymmetric chop to move the bench dog closer to the front. I’d probably choose this Jorgenson face vise for that role.
The pros are pretty obvious – very simple to install, no end cap or heavy surgery on my bench. My only concern is that the tail end of the board might not be well-supported, but looking at the substantial chop on Chris’ setup I think that’s unlikely. I may have just talked myself into this approach.
Lee Valley Tail VIse
Lee Valley has an interesting approach, and it looks to be pretty simple to install. It looks like it should provide plenty of support, but requires cutting a notch in the corner of the bench, and the moving part has to hang about 3.5″ below the bottom of the bench to attach to the mechanism. Anyone have firsthand experience with this vise?
I’m going to gloss over the Lee Valley/Veritas twin screw vise, but I suppose it’s another alternative. It it would have the advantage of clamping wide boards between the screws for dovetailing case pieces. But looking at the installation instructions leads me to believe it ‘s not designed with thick bench tops in mind.
On to Wagon Vises…
Benchcrafted Tail Vise
The Benchcrafted tail vise seems to be what most folks hold up as the gold standard for building wagon vises. My ONLY problem with this is the need to carve out so much of the underside of the bench. It’s a bit spendy, but quality costs money and I don’t have a problem paying for a solid vise setup. Maybe I’m making too big a deal out if it? It also looks like it would be a pain to do without a beefy router, especially since my benchtop is already glued up and pretty close to square/true already.
Hovarter Wagon Vise
This is a really slick setup, and I’m tempted. Mounting it requires a slot for the do (no getting away from that with a wagon vise after all) and an end cap to support the drive rod. The mechanism is pretty slick too. I had to go find the patent application to figure it out out. In short, turning the handle operates a wedge that tips a clutch ring so it locks onto the round shaft, then continues to push it forward to tighten the dog against the workpiece. A quarter turn in the other direction and it unlocks, and you can slide it back. I like this one a lot. I’d really like to try it out in person, I have a small concern that the clutch ring won’t hold up or could slip.
Home Made Setup
Perhaps not surprising, I’m also thinking about making my own setup. I’m pretty confident I could make something that would mount simply and work well. But on the other hand, I don’t need another project – I need to finish my bench so I can get on with other woodworking projects. Of course, on the other other hand, another project never hurt anyone…did it?
I’ll close with a picture of someone else’s home-brew wagon vise. It’s simple in the extreme, but it looks like it would probably work reasonably well.